“I would like to see the scientist working on beans; do you know where I can find him?” I got asked this question more times that I could count.
As a young female African researcher working in Malawi for an international agriculture research organization, my office was the first in a long corridor of offices where we were hosted by the National Research Organization. In the eyes of the regular visitors to the office, I did not fit the image of an agricultural scientist.
A recent study by the International Food Policy Research Institute shows that in 2014, only 24 percent of researchers working in the agricultural sciences were women, and only 17 percent of those in leadership positions were women in a sample of 40 sub-Saharan African countries. This matters because the evidence shows that better jobs for women in agriculture leads to higher wages and greater decision making — which ultimately has a positive impact on the ways households spend money on children’s nutrition, health, and education. Having more women in agricultural research also ensures that this workforce is representative of its client base: Smallholder farmers, the majority of whom are women.
Did you know that women produce more than half of all food grown worldwide, and in sub-Saharan Africa women produce up to 80% of all food (FAO, 2011)? Yet across Asia and Africa it is common that women are not given access to the same amount of resources as men, whether that is money, land, tools or information (World Bank et al., 2009). Their opportunities are limited by the social and economic roles that men and women are expected to fulfil in society. It is therefore vital to reach women through our agricultural programmes; otherwise a huge proportion of the human population is missing out on the opportunity to improve household food security and contribute to economic stability.
In developing countries, rural women play a significant role in agriculture, accounting for 60-80% of food production and selling food products at markets . In Nepal, it’s been reported that up to 98% of women are employed in the agricultural sector, a percentage which is higher than that for men (91%) [1b]. Contribution by women is therefore critical in agriculture to achieve global food security. However, they generally don’t have the same access to land, water, seeds, training and credit than men.  As a consequence, in Nepal, women involvement is greater in minor and subsistence food production for crops such as millet, maize, and soybean while men are more involved in cash crops and commercial production of crops such as rice. Moreover, whilst men generally perform heavy physical labour women are involved in tedious and time-consuming work such as weeding, harvesting, threshing and milling.
There’s a pretty simple way we could be feeding an additional 150 million hungry people around the world. It’s not through some super advanced technology or billion-dollar idea that someone just came up with. The answer has been right in front of us for a very long time:
Women. Women farmers are a secret weapon to fighting hunger.
The Plantwise programme supports local implementing organizations in their efforts to mainstream gender equality in their activities. The Plantwise steering committee in Honduras invited Olinda Rubio (Chief of Communications at the Ministry of Agriculture [SAG-SENASA] and gender expert), to join the team and lead the in-country Plantwise gender strategy, which focuses on ensuring the inclusion of both men and women groups, and tailoring plant clinic services to their needs.
Today, 15 October, is the International Day of Rural Women. The majority of rural women depend on natural resources and agriculture for their livelihoods. In developing countries, rural women represent approximately 43% of the agricultural labour force, and produce, process and prepare much of the food available, thereby giving them primary responsibility for food security.
Ensuring rural women’s access to reliable agricultural advice can make the difference between their crop succeeding or failing. CABI works alongside national extension services to deliver information to farmers in the field, through face to face plant clinics, voicemail/SMS messages, radio and magazines, through projects such as Plantwise (www.plantwise.org), Direct2Farm (www.cabi.org/direct2farm) and the Africa Soil Health Consortium (www.africasoilhealth.cabi.org).
The three women pictured above are tea pickers in Sri Lanka. Anyone who has visited tea growing countries will notice the large commercial tea farms, and women in the fields picking the tea leaves. Smallholders also contribute to tea production in Sri Lanka. Regulated by the Tea Smallholding Authority, they sell tea leaves from their 0.5-2 acre plots to the big tea companies. Tea blister blight is the main problem for tea farmers in Sri Lanka. In June, farmer Punchi brought a diseased tea leaf into the plant clinic in Nuwara Eliya. The plant doctor was able to diagnose blister blight and recommend how to manage the problem. Punchi left the clinic with a new hope that she could stop the disease from spreading and save the rest of her tea crop for selling to the tea companies.
On this day in 1995, 17,000 participants from around the world gathered for the Fourth World Conference on Women in which 189 countries around the world signed The Beijing Declaration – a UN agenda for change concerning the equality of men and women. Described as a “milestone for the world’s women”, the resolution set a blueprint of global standards to empower women across all aspects of their lives from maternal health and reproductive rights to increased participation in public life and politics. With women being responsible for producing over half of the world’s supply of food, improving economic inequalities in agriculture was a priority on the agenda which begs me to ask the question – are we there yet? Continue reading →